The symbolic value of the public sector

It’s notable that many of the recent branding Christmas ads show us, predominately two kinds of workers.

1. Public sectors workers. This is interesting in UK, at least, because there’s been a massive attack on public sector workers for the last five years especially from the political class – who carp on about shrinking the state and increasing private sector jobs.

Irrelevant of the politics of this, it’s worth thinking about why it’s more powerful to show us a nurse working late on Christmas than a retail worker (as in the Boots ad). Indeed, taking this example we might think that it’d be a better message for Boots to show their workers providing excellent service even on Christmas day. But they choose not to. They show a nurse. Likewise, Sainsbury’s show soldiers; Coke show policemen. Even in the John Lewis ad there’s scene on a bus (driven by a transport worker).

I think this is because there’s a suspicion that people feel sympathy for public sector workers and unconsciously we all know we might need them at some point. So, my question is, should advertisers have to pay image rights for using images of public sector workers in their ads? My other question is, why can’t worker’s organizations do something with these positive sentiments to support their workers’ rights?

2. Precarious workers. In both the Boots and Coke ad, we also see two other workers. In the Coke ad we see a cleaner. Her Happy Christmas moment is having some youths draw smiley faces in the snow on parked cars – which could just as easily be seen as a massive insult but anyway. And in the extended Boots ad there’s a guy in a high visibility jacket. In both cases, the workers could well by immigrants.

I find this interesting for the same reason as the presentation for public sector workers. There’s a massive attack on legal and illegal immigrants, especially those who do low skilled work. So why are they an attractive image for advertisers? Is this austerity advertising: instead of showing us aspiration images it shows us the very douche bags we, as a society are trying to screw?

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